Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Interview for The Times

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Julian Haviland, The Times
Editorial comments: 1715-1815: a fourth anniversary interview.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5426
Themes: Executive, Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Economy (general discussions), Employment, Industry, General Elections, Local elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Private health care, Labour Party & socialism, Local government finance, Leadership, Conservative (leadership elections), Religion & morality, Trade unions, Trade union law reform

JH

I can start by asking about the election but it has been made quite clear to me that you can't tell me an election date and I am a constitutionalist and I don't expect you to. Prime Minister, have you made up your mind about the election date?

PM

No, and as I said in the House today, when I do seek an election I shall do it in the normal way and until then it is business as usual.

JH

Do you expect to make up your mind in the next few days. And then announce it?

PM

I am not going to be tempted beyond what I have said.

JH

Sir Alec Douglas-Home thought it right in April 1964 to end uncertainty by announcing that there would be no election before the autumn. Might you make a similar announcement?

PM

April 1964 was much nearer the end of his time than May 1983 is near the end of mine.

JH

Have you been deliberately teasing the electorate or teasing the Opposition so to make them spend their money? Is that fair game?

PM

I think it was the media that started to ask me in the broadcasts just over the Christmas period, that was when it all started. Correct Bernard? (Yes)

JH

But you could have put an end to it if you had wanted, couldn't you Prime Minister?

PM

No, it's not possible. You have been on about it for three or four minutes now. I couldn't put an end to that.

JH

Although you have a secure majority in the Commons and [end p1] plenty of work in hand I take it you see nothing disreputable in going in June if you calculate you're likely to win then?

PM

I have not, again as I indicated, eliminated any options. I understand that quite a lot of people are trying to make me.

JH

In the end is this a decision just for you or can Cabinet make it for you?

PM

It is a decision in the end for me. But every Prime Minister must take quite a lot of soundings.

JH

And if you get it wrong, as Mr. Heath did, would you expect to be dispossessed as he was?

PM

He wasn't dispossessed. The Party ran a ballot.

JH

But wasn't that his offence, that he got …

PM

It's not for me to say why they voted for one or the other. One believes in the system. I'm not expecting to get it wrong.

JH

What can you offer the electorate for another term, Prime Minister? You offered four years ago to rebuild the economy and there's not much sign of that, is there?

PM

I think you underestimate what we offered. We offered a complete change in direction. A direction in which the State become totally dominant in people's life, not only dominant, it penetrated almost every aspect. The one in which we thought we ought to return, to a life where, yes, the State did do certain things; of course it does have responsibility for a stable currency; it's responsible for the rule of law; it's responsible for defence; it's responsible for a framework of regulation; it's responsible for safety measures and social services. But in one's pattern, in one's pattern or own ideas, none of those things are meant to displace personal responsibility, the right to independence in a free State, the right to property, the right to be enterprising and so on. And so I think we have altered the balance between the person and the State in a very very favourable way. In a way which is much much more in keeping with the character of the people [end p2] of Britain. So that really was a total change of philosophy away from the all-embracing dominance of socialism to one in which the State, holds the framework of law, defence, the rule of law and the safety net; but where it still leaves people tremendous scope for their own enterprise, for their own self reliance, for their own responsibility.

JH

Would you expect to be judged, though, primarily on your economic management? Would you expect the electorate to think the price in bankruptcies, closures, unemployment was worth paying?

PM

No, I think again, you're trying to take just one thing. And I don't think that's right. Life is about more than economics. A lot more things. No, I do not think I'm vulnerable on economics. The recession has been deep and world-wide. Whatever we had to do economically became even more important to do when we were faced with the recession. Because, after all, what one had to do was to be sound in financial terms and sound in industrial terms. Because in industrial terms you must go for good design, for a good product and produce it efficiently and on time. And that requires a joint effort by everyone and it requires responsibility at the point of design and production, not in No. 10. And you can only carry out those responsibilities if you've got a Government that's running sound finance. That is constraining its expenditure, trying to get honest money, that is getting inflation down. And not borrowing too much because that way you try to get your interest rates down.

JH

But you are being attacked, Prime Minister, and you may in the end be judged on the level of unemployment and for your attitude to it. Did you ever imagine it would be as high as it is now?

PM

No, I did not. I don't think any of us had any idea of how deep this world recession was going to be. I think in part it is deeper that the one which came from the first oil price increase because we haven't yet recovered from that. And part of the way of coming out of that was to lend a lot of money all over the world which was too much for the people who borrowed it to be able to repay on time. My attitude to unemployment. One hates unemployment, one absolutely hates unemployment but you don't [end p3] create jobs just by talking or by interviews or by making a noise in opposition.

JH

But Mr Foot has attacked you for your willing acceptance of unemployment. Is that unjust?

PM

Oh, totally unjust. Mr. Foot and the government of which he was a member, when they went into government, I think, regarded unemployment, I speak from memory, I think it was about 660,000, high according to their philosophy. But they were not able to prevent it from rising by one million. That didn't mean to say that they accepted unemployment or that they wanted it. And we, being then a responsible Opposition and one who knew that they neither wanted it nor accepted it, wouldn't have made such an accusation.

JH

But there is a difference. Isn't it true …

PM

No, there is not a difference. Except perhaps in the way in which one tackles politics.

JH

But you don't accept responsibility on the government's part for unemployment, do you?

PM

I cannot accept responsibility for those who strike themselves out of jobs, insist on having over-manning, insist on having restrictive practices, who refuse to accept new technology or who have not got good management, or who don't design products which other people want to buy. What I do accept responsibility for is creating the right financial framework and the right legal framework. I believe we've done that. I can try to do that and then, in the world in which we live, that gives as many people as possible the opportunity for enterprise. And some are doing very well. It's tough. Some are doing very well and others, of course, are in industries where a lot of the business has moved from us to something which we didn't have twenty years ago. The newly industrialised countries. They're a fact of life. And you have to tackle them.

JH

One of your Treasury Ministers, Mr. Ridley, once said that the high level of unemployment was evidence of the progress you are [end p4] making and what your opponents say and what Sir Ian Gilmour has said, is that your government is the first to specifically repudiate the notion that the government is responsible for maintaining a high a stable level of employment. The famous 1944 White Paper. Is that true?

PM

Turn it off, I will fetch it. I will wipe out the figures which I gave you. But when you read the answer you said …   .

PM

Yes, I know that White Paper very well indeed. Let me get my copy. It is here. Note: “Margaret Roberts” . That tells you how long I've had it. I've had this over thirty-five years. I know almost every word of it. So much of it is thoroughly true and sound still. Let me read you the last sentence of that foreword. “The success of the policy outlined in this paper will ultimately depend on the understanding and support of the community as a whole, especially on the efforts of employers and workers in industry” . This is the important part:— “for without a rising standard of industrial efficiency we cannot achieve a high level of employment combined with a rising standard of living.” It goes on, it deals with obsolete products, it deals with mobility of labour, it deals with the importance of having balanced budgets, taking one year with another. It goes on to say things like this— “Workers must examine,” paragraph 54, “their trade practices and customs to ensure that they do not constitute a serious impediment to an expansionist economy and so defeat the object of full employment programmes.” And then it says, paragraph 56, “If an expansion of total expenditure were applied to cure unemployment of a type due not to absence of jobs but a failure of workers to move to places and occupations where they were needed, the policy of the government is frustrated and a dangerous rise in prices might follow.” There's far more in this White Paper that's on the side of my philosophy and my economic practice than anyone else's. And I can read you out sentence after sentence which says there's no substitute for industrial efficiency, industrial cooperation and for sound money.

JH

I'm going on to another one of Mr. Foot 's charges. Is it unjust for him to write of you, “She worships the profit motive, the money test. Nothing else, no other value in life is allowed to count” ? [end p5]

PM

Worships? What a strange word. But you can't have a satisfactory business without profits, and what's more no government would get any taxation without profits, and what's more no company would get any investment without profits. So what's the point of bashing them? You ought in fact to say, look, we want more of them. If he is saying that he would advise a member of his family, trying to look for a job: “Look, my boy, don't you go to one of those companies that makes profits, you go to one that makes losses.” Of course, he wouldn't. Neither would any mum. She would say you, “Go to that company, it's a good company, it's a profitable company, therefore it will have reserves, therefore it will have a future, it's a good management, they can keep a step ahead of their competitors.” Yes, I want more profits and so must anyone who has any hope for the future of this country. And a higher standard of living.

JH

But the accusation of the Leader of the Opposition, your principal rival for the Prime Ministership of the next government, is that no other value is allowed to count with you. Is that true?

PM

Oh, I thought he was accusing me of having a whole lot of other values, like believing in the self-reliance, thrift, the voluntary spirit, helping one's neighbour voluntarily, climbing the ladder on merit. All of these—it doesn't matter what your background—let me say that to Mr. Foot, it doesn't matter what your background, climbing the ladder on merit. I thought, when it suits him and other people, I was accused of having those values and I plead guilty to that accusation.

JH

I think you are replying effectively to the charge that no other value counts. Can I ask you about the Williamsburg Summit? Are you going to go in any case, whether or not the General Election is on?

PM

I expect to go to Williamsburg.

JH

Do you expect agreement at Williamsburg on some joint programme to get the world out of recession?

PM

If you mean that there's going to be some new formula, no. [end p6] Because there isn't a new formula. If you look back at the economic section of the communiqué from Versailles, you really will find the only way which is likely to get us all out of the recession, and it is that each economy runs itself soundly. As you know, France has changed her economic policy since Versailles but very much in accordance with that communiqué; each country runs its economy soundly; gets inflation down; gets its budget deficit down because that is the way to get interest rates down. The budget deficit, of course, we think is particularly important because it's difficult to get a recovery on high interest rates. And you think, people have got to turn round; they've got to take in fresh stocks—that requires financing. You don't have to pay too high an interest rate. On construction, you've got to lay out money for quite a long time ahead. Small businesses have to expand. If you want to have a major investment on expansion, you don't want to have to have interest rates too high because your product would then have to be priced too high. So this, a recipe one might call it, has really already been laid out and there isn't another one. There most certainly is not one which—let me just put it in a nutshell—which says, look, the countries that have been wise and got inflation down and have a good balance of payments must run their affairs so they get bigger inflation to enable the other people who run their economies badly to come out of recession. You can't. That would not take us into a sound world recovery. That would take you into a very unsound, very temporary recovery and most of us have seen those before, and we want a steady sustained recovery.

JH

Are you referring to disarray as in the United States and the French?

PM

No, France has turned, and some of the speeches made in France with her latest economic programme I could have made myself. After all, they are saying, “It is our target to get inflation down to 5 per cent” . We've got ours down below that. They have had to cut their public spending—of course they have, because it was too high. They've been borrowing too much so they have to cut their borrowing. I can't fault them in any way on their objectives.

JH

Can I ask if you intend to go to the Stuttgart Summit in early June? [end p7]

PM

I expect to carry on and go to the Stuttgart Summit.

JH

Would you go there if there's an election campaign?

PM

I expect to go to the Stuttgart Summit.

JH

Do you think the electorate will be impressed by the spectacle of yet another row over the Common Market Budget?

PM

Impressed, no. And I won't be impressed by it. I would be a little bit depressed by it, because I've had to fight that one before. But everyone there knows that if they were in the position that Britain is, of being one of the two people who finance the Community, Germany being the other one, they would fight in the same way that I shall. And they know that I shall fight, and they know that in the end that I shall have to have a reasonable settlement. And although we have to fight that corner …   .

JH

But you've been fighting that for four years and you've got nowhere. You've been trying for a permanent settlement …

PM

With all due respect, we have got a lot. We got an enormous refund for three years.

JH

But the objective was a permanent settlement and you are nowhere near that, are you?

PM

The objective was really to get a different method of financing the Community. Because, looking ahead, we foresaw that the present method would not work. But, you know, I think sometimes it's a weakness of democratic countries. You can point out to them all, including ourselves, the things that will happen in the future if you don't take certain evasive action now. And they will never believe it. You know, it's like seeing the spectre right at the end of the street and you never believe it until it's banging on your kitchen door. And so it is, I think, with the Community. So long as there were money in the coffers, they never thought we'd come to the crunch—when agricultural expenditure would get so great that there wasn't quite enough money to cover it. We're coming to that—and we thought we'd come to it [end p8] earlier—but I think we're coming to it probably next year. And that is the time when everyone is affected. And you can then really get them to think of a longer term solution. In the meantime I am just saying, look, I'm the first person to want a longer term solution. And I want it on a basis of fairness and equity. Both of which are good British terms. But in the meantime we can't afford to go on financing Europe to the extent that we would be without refunds. I've got to have an interim settlement for this year and until we have a long term one. I know I'll have to fight my corner but I hope we shan't have to batter away quite as hard as we did last time. I think we've got a good deal more understanding now. And I think Chancellor Kohl also understands because Germany too has to do a very large amount of financing.

JH

Are you worried that the continuing battle is going to fuel the Labour Party's campaign to bring us out of Europe?

PM

I try to play it the other way. Because I believe passionately that the democracies must stand together. Because we stand opposite a Warsaw Pact country that is against people that have to be satellite to the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union gives them no choice. She sends in the tanks if they try to loosen themselves in any way. We are free countries and we must freely ally together. And freely work together. And that means more to me and more to the future of freedom and justice and democracy in the world. And therefore it is important that we stand together. The way I say to people is, look, we've now got a Common Fisheries Policy; we've agreed on most things; we have this one outstanding thing which is difficult—it is the Budget and I think that we are going to get a short term and then leading to a longer term solution on that. And then we can perhaps spend our energies on working together more closely for things which we value beyond rubies.

JH

Can I ask you one other foreign matter? And that is on the Falklands. Are we mishandling the question of the relatives of the Argentine dead by denying them, as we appear to be doing, the chance to visit the graves of the dead?

PM

We have not denied the relatives of the Argentine dead the opportunity to visit the graves. We asked the International Red [end p9] Cross to organise and supervise such a visit. They were not able to do so, and as you know they washed their hands of Destefanis who said the terms and conditions under which he wished to make the visit—will you get the precise terms on this?—would have compromised their neutrality. Our offer of a visit by the relatives, the close relatives, of the Argentine dead to the Falklands under the auspices of the International Red Cross and supervised by them still stands.

JH

Can we not go further, and be rather more magnanimous than that, and satisfy ourselves that there's not some way in which we can help the relatives, the genuine relatives who want to go for humanitarian, and not propaganda reasons, to go?

PM

What could be more magnanimous and more satisfactory to all sides than putting it into the hands of an organisation which has a worldwide reputation than the International Red Cross?

JH

Can we not take them ourselves?

PM

But if it won't work, there's a reason why it won't work. And that reason would be that the visit was not solely for humanitarian reasons. And the visit that we would accept, of course, was a visit for humanitarian reasons. I must also consider the feelings of the Falkland Islanders who were invaded by these people. And whose peace and freedom was brutally and suddenly shattered.

JH

May I ask about your plans for a new Parliament about which you have given many hints? Have you abandoned the idea of abolishing domestic rating?

PM

The straight abolition would indeed be very very difficult indeed, because the amount of money raised by rates has increased enormously. At the time when we were proposing abolition it was very very much less. And as you saw from the Green Paper, many many people still want to abolish rates but they disagree about how you raise a comparable amount of money or a similar amount of money. And that is really wherein lies the difficulty.

JH

You are talking about reforming now. Will you have positive proposals for reform in the Manifesto? [end p10]

PM

I hope so. I expect so.

JH

Will reform mean that householders will pay less?

PM

I think you must wait and see.

JH

Will you take teachers' salaries …

PM

Let me put it this way. If you look back at the second election in 1974, because that's the only place where the pledge was given, it was to abolish domestic rates. Now, what has become abundantly clear since then is that, with the height of rates now, and they are an acute embarrassment and a very big cost both to industry and to commerce, and one has also to turn one's attention to the effect upon them. Therefore the point is we have a much much bigger problem than the one that we had been looking at on domestic rates. The reason for the difference originally was that domestic rates are paid out of net taxed income and of course your industrial and commercial rates are allowed against profit. Of course they are a cost in calculating your costs. But at the level at which some people are paying them, they are almost putting some small businesses out.

JH

Will you restore the business vote for local elections?

PM

I personally don't think the business vote would solve the problem in any way.

JH

One proposal in 1974 was to take teachers' salaries off the rates. Are you going to do that?

PM

The first thing you always have to look at in politics is— “I know what I want to get away from, but what am I going to put in its place?” And you must decide what you put in its place. It's no good just ditching something before you have decided precisely what to replace it with. Or how you adjust the two things.

JH

You don't sound as though you have solved the problem yet, Prime Minister? [end p11]

PM

I hope I sound as if I have considered it very carefully and as if I would expect the next Manifesto to contain some positive steps forward.

JH

Will you abolish the Metropolitan County Councils?

PM

I think you must also wait for the Manifesto. I don't think that I can give you a scoop.

JH

Are you tempted to abolish …   .

PM

I am tempted to do many many things, but I have to consider things with my colleagues and consider what is possible, because some people will always say that politics is the art of the possible. I always add to that we really must raise our sights as to what is possible.

JH

Is privatisation still high on your agenda? Will you persist in trying to sell British Airways, the shipbuilders, the gas services?

PM

Privatisation is indeed high and it is working And, having been here, I can tell it's absolutely ridiculous that so many industrial and commercial decisions should come up to a Cabinet and to a Prime Minister. They should be taken by the industries themselves. And they should be taken often much much nearer the seat of business, nearer the shop floor. Because they know the state of trade. And they can respond much more quickly. So its a great success and will be an increasing success. And of course its helped to get rates down in some areas.

JH

Would profitable coal mines be better off in private hands?

PM

I certainly think that there is scope for running the National Coal Board in such a way that the overheads are reduced and that the subisidy that the taxpayer has to pay to the National Coal Board could be substantially reduced.

JH

By bringing private energy to the profitable pits?

PM

I am not going as far as that at the moment in this interview. But I do hope to be able to show to people that privatisation [end p12] works. It is often more efficient because people know to some extent they are on their own, whereas if they are nationalised they think, “Oh well we can turn round and the taxpayer has got to subsidise us” . And therefore they haven't quite that edge; there is no substitute for competition.

JH

It sounds like a possibility for the next Manifesto?

PM

More privatisation sounds like a possibility for the next Manifesto. I can't go any further than that. I think you are a bit ambitious when you start to talk about the National Coal Board in that same breath. There is a great deal of scope for getting more efficiency into the National Coal Board and, my goodness me, that would be such a boon if we could get down the price of coal because it would be wonderful for electricity. And therefore wonderful for industry.

JH

Since you said you want to increase private provision where possible, will there be tax relief to encourage private health insurance?

PM

I think we restored tax relief on employers for private health insurance.

JH

But not for contributors?

PM

But not for contributors.

JH

Might you do that?

PM

I'm really not making up a manifesto this instant and that really is very very detailed.

JH

What about things like education vouchers? Will these come forward at last?

PM

I think you must wait. I'm not writing a manifesto in the columns of The Times, much as I realise that's your objective.

JH

Try one more. Students grants, because this has been talked about quite a lot rather than loans. Is that likely? [end p13]

PM

I think you will find that there will still be student grants.

JH

You have talked rather a lot about your new trade union laws—the Green Paper—and I wonder if you will prohibit strikes in public services like water workers, energy suppliers?

PM

You know strikes were never prohibited in those services. There was an arrangement with certain public utilities—water and electricity—under which you could not break your contract of employment. Of course, that did not stop working to rule, which as you know can be acutely embarrassing. Nor did it stop—and this is why I think people get a little bit muddled—people coming to the end of the contract of employment and then going on strike before negotiating a new one. So it was not as hard and fast as many people thought. And already water really had, as we were saying frequently during that strike, a procedural agreement and in the event of disagreement they had to go to arbitration. So there was already an agreement not to strike. But it didn't work, I'm afraid.

JH

Are you set on compulsory ballots for trade union elections?

PM

I think it's likely that that will find a place in the Manifesto, if it is not already dealt with by a Bill before the House.

JH

If you try to pass more laws dealing with trade unions, when the unions are weakened by high unemployment, won't it look like vindictiveness after the two Acts you have already passed?

PM

No, certainly not. You sound as if there weren't laws dealing with trade unions. There is a mass of trade union law, some of which we have set out to change for very good reasons, and more of which still need changing. But we take it step by step at a time. There's a massive body of law, as you know, much of which puts trade unions in a very very favourable position and absolves them from damages when it would never absolve other people, other organisations, from damages. There is nothing wrong in trying to get the law right. [end p14]

JH

If you take it step by step as you say in your approach, isn't it wise to see the effect of first steps. You've already restricted picketing and secondary action? You've weakened the closed shop. Most of these provisions haven't yet been tested in the courts.

PM

But we've already been in four years. We've done two Acts. Those have been very good Acts and I believe that they have played a part in changing attitudes which is very important. And played a part in coming to a fairer balance between employers and employees and a fairer balance between members of trade unions and trade unions. Don't forget, in all the things we've done, we've had reason to believe that the vast majority of trade unionists are with us and that's very important to us.

JH

Finally, to put through some of your plans, are you going to need to choose a different sort of Cabinet, free from doubters?

PM

No, no. I am very happy with my Cabinet. We work extremely well together.

JH

You wouldn't have a new Cabinet even though your opponents say you should be markedly more right wing. You try to keep the balance of the left and right and the centre of the party as now.

PM

You always try to keep a balance. You have to take the whole Party with you. But your greatest weapon of course is persuasion. And your powers of persuasion come from your conviction.

JH

But there are different sorts of Conservatives, aren't there Prime Minister? Mr. Whitelaw, Mr. Pym, Mr. Prior, Mr. Walker, who, I suppose, one can characterise by saying they believe in looking for a consensus of which you've talked at such depth. Will they be in your next Cabinet?

PM

Consensus is a word which is not to be used in politics for very good reasons. It is not a word that's ever needed. Just try susbtituting “agreement” and you'll get a much more exact view. I never understand consensus. It is a rather soft wishy-washy word. Agreement I understand. We in my Cabinet have agreement to go ahead. We don't need anything like consensus. What is [end p15] consensus if it's not agreement? We try to get agreement on a positive course of action. The feeling is that, consensus, you have to go down and down until you get something which really doesn't mean very much. Just cut out consensus from your vocabulary and try to get agreement. And you won't find you've lost anything by having one word the less. You might find you've gained something by getting precision about what you are agreed upon and a better basis to go forward. And in so far as we've been successful, all members of my Cabinet share in that success. Yes, we do argue things out. As you know, it is my nature. You've got to get the bugs out of something before you decide, before you agree.

JH

You have answered that question. Because electors are being asked to choose not one dominant Prime Minister but a team and they are going to be asked to choose a similar sort of team next time.

PM

I don't think even then you're quite right. They're are being asked to choose a direction, a philosophy, a conviction, a style. All of those things. You can't separate out the many many strands; they are all part of being Conservative and the style of this Conservative government; the way in which we try to achieve our objectives, the consistency. And I think the kind of respect that that has gained in all sorts of quarters.

JH

You've been very generous with your time, the tape's coming to an end. Thank you so much.